Caretaker kills self

A building on Wadmalaw Island smolders Thursday morning, the day after authorities say a the property's caretaker set fire to several buildings and then killed himself Wednesday.

Wadmalaw Island -- A man who served as caretaker of a farm set fire to four buildings on the property before killing himself late Wednesday, authorities said.

Joseph Edward Thomas, 65, of Wadmalaw Island died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Charleston County Deputy Coroner Bobbi Jo O'Neal said Thursday. Thomas' body was found by Charleston County sheriff's deputies responding to a massive fire at 1909 Leadenwah Road, just off Maybank Highway.

The fire started before dark Wednesday and was discovered by neighbors out riding ATV vehicles in the area. When they saw smoke, they investigated and found all the buildings on the property aflame.

Firefighters from St. Johns, Charleston and St. Paul's fire departments, as well as Rescue 4, put out fires in the main house, a guest house, an apartment and a barn on the property, where they found a gas can and partially burned gloves. Shortly afterward, deputies found Thomas dead in the upstairs of an apartment attached to the barn, a revolver in his hand.

All of the fires appeared to be intentionally set, said Maj. John Clark of the Charleston County Sheriff's Office. Clark said deputies were told that Thomas was caretaker of the property.

Officials gave no motive for the arson or suicide. The incident is still under investigation.

Reach Andy Paras at 937-5589, aparas@postandcourier.com or on twitter at twitter.com/andyparas.